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Australia’s Coalition government lacks serious plan for future beyond coal

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beyond coalThere are a growing number of stakeholders publicly recognising the need for a phased closure of Australia’s coal burning power stations.

AGL, Origin, EnergyAustralia and even the Australian Energy Market Operator are calling for a plan to close coal burning power stations. So, too, are Australia’s leading think tanks, academics and businesses.

Guess who’s missing? The Coalition government. Why? Well, a number of reasons.

Firstly, coal burning power stations polluted an astounding 162 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2014-15. That’s equivalent to 30% of Australia’s total emissions. AEMO and others have correctly calculated that if we are going to meet our Paris climate targets, we’re going to need to do something about our biggest single source of climate pollution.

Secondly, our coal burning power stations are ageing and are operating in an oversupplied market. AGL argues that around 75 per cent of operating coal burning power stations are past their use by date. And AEMO have said that we have around 9000 MW extra generating capacity in the system.

And given these figures, AGL and other generators have rightly commented on the need for certainty for local communities and for the electricity market. With the reality of climate change, and ageing power stations operating in an oversupplied market, power stations are likely to start closing.

As seen in Port Augusta, where Northern power station was closed with less than a year’s notice, this can leave local communities and workers without a plan for the future. At an electricity market scale, Origin have said that a planned transition will help certainty in renewable energy investments.

In Victoria, announcements from Engie and the Victorian Government in the last month have added extra pressure to coal burning power stations. The French owners of Hazelwood, Engie, have said that they’re considering closingthe power station to cut their emissions. And the Victorian Government announced a state renewable energy target of 40% by 2025, which will mean Victoria’s brown coal power stations will have to make way for new renewables.

Without a plan for a phased closure of coal burning power stations we are likely to see some plants closing at short notice, and others staying open way too long.

As well as major electricity generators and the national market operator, consensus is also growing among our business, community and academic leaders. Two separate leadership forums hosted recently by the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian National University have found overwhelming support to transition the energy sector to renewables.

So the reality of climate change and the current state of the electricity market are demanding that we close coal burning power stations, and there is a growing consensus among energy generators, market operators, and business, academic and community leaders that we need to transition.

So what is the government’s plan?

Asked at a candidates forum recently what the government’s plan was to transition communities affected by coal closure, Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg had very little to say.

At a policy level, the Coalitions Direct Action Plan doesn’t even mention coal. And goes nowhere near suggesting that our electricity market may need to change in a significant way. This is beginning to show, with emissions in Australia actually rising in 2015, as a direct result of increased use of coal power stations.

Far from ‘meeting and beating’ our climate targets, Australia is going backwards. The government has no plan to phase out our polluting coal burning power stations, and no plan to help transition communities and workers affected by their inevitable closure.

Instead, the Coalition has suggested using the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to fund a steel works, a transmission cable, urban development plans, improved water quality on the Reef, and agricultural infrastructure. All important projects, I’m sure, but will do little to help the transition our energy sector desperately needs.

With no serious climate policy, the Coalition is way behind the rest of the Australia and indeed the world. They need to wake up to the reality of an oversupply of dirty coal fired electricity, and catch up to the growing consensus of Australians ready for a clean energy transition.

Hannah Aulby is a clean energy campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation.  

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  • What the Coalition Government needs to do is invite the US companies that have developed Carbon Capture Utilization System technologies to show this part of the world that coal can be combusted as clean as natural gas, and with less CO2 emissions.
    The reason it is not being supported in the USA is the Administration has vowed to sink the coal industry, even when there is more than 200 years of coal available to produce America’s electricity.
    Combusted coal with near zero emissions is possible.
    Sid Abma

    • Peter F

      So please tell us where this technology is working

    • david_fta

      near-zero emissions isn’t good enough, needs to be zero.

      • Brunel

        What about woodfires. They should be banned in new houses – unless there is a mechanism to stop the smoke from polluting the neighborhood.

        • david_fta

          We’re talking two different issues here, you’re talking about domestic and municipal air pollution, whereas I’m talking about the net unbalanced transfer of carbon from underground to the atmosphere.

          Don’t forget, every tree that is cut down makes way for a tree to go, which it does by taking CO2 from the atmosphere – so the net atmospheric carbon contribution of tree growth and wood burning is, over a long enough time scale, either zero (provided all the carbon in the tree is converted to CO2) or even negative (if some of the carbon in the tree becomes the soot particles that compose wood smoke).

    • Island fisher

      There is one CSS plant running in the world, cost of power from it is higher per MWHR than even Hinkley C so it is uncompetitive with all forms of renewable energy, so has no future

    • Ian

      What a grand idea. The operating licences of coal powered stations should be contingent on them capturing every last breath of carbon dioxide they produce. Large fines for emitting carbon dioxide to the atmosphere should be imposed. The CCUS technology has had long enough to develop, now it must be put into practice. No CCUS, no coal simple as that.

    • nakedChimp

      Combusted coal with near zero emissions is possible

      possible? yes
      economical? no

  • david_fta

    They do seem determined to use the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to fund all sorts of “worthy” projects – anything other than Clean Energy.

  • nlaldm

    Coal communities need to be considered in all phasing out of coal, who helps them transition because the Coalition aren’t doing anything about it.

  • David. It is possible to remove 95% of the CO2 and convert it into useable – saleable products. This Carbon Capture Utilization System technology has an Return On Investment. It creates full time jobs. It reaches out supporting many other industries to support it’s operation.
    We brought it to the US DOE with a 36 page report showing how and why it works. It’s not new technology. What we did was take existing technologies and rework them to fit for combusted coal exhaust.
    The US Administration does not want to assist CCU technologies as Obama in November 2008 – Coal (YouTube) has vowed to sink the coal industry and the utilities that are combusting coal to produce electricity. He is promoting CCS because it is too expensive to apply, and still expect to sell the produced electricity.
    And there is more that can be recovered and products produced from the othere elements in combusted coal exhaust. That is why we say ~ Waste is not a waste if it has a purpose.